Top 10 Albums of 2012

Stars - North10. Stars – The North

Compared to previous Stars records, The North is positively joyous. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s dual vocal attack remains as tight as ever, but there’s more hope in the words they’re singing. The instrumentals are also more upbeat with shimmering indie pop backings being boosted by deep groves. It’s a sweet collection of love songs that begs listeners to sway along.

Menzingers - Impossible Past9. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past

The Menzingers is the band I thought I was getting when people first started raving to me about The Gaslight Anthem. The music wonderfully blends an angry punk sound with lyrics the pine for the elusive American dream in a way that’s Springsteen-esque. On the Impossible Past fiercely kicks off with “Good Things,” one of the year’s best songs, and barrels full steam ahead from there.

Erik Blood - Touch Screens8. Erik Blood – Touch Screens

Touch Screens is the classiest, most polished filth of the year. Erik Blood’s ode to pornography mixes a variety of guitar-driven rock styles while (naughtily) touching on everything from porn star biographies (“The Lonesome Death of Henry Paris”) to selecting a daily dose of smut (“Today’s Lover”) to the complexities of porn actor’s relationships away from the job (“Share Your Love”). Each song is fine tuned with the deft production skills that have made made Blood one of the go-to producers in the Seattle scene. Touch Screens may leave you feeling dirty, but it’s too pleasurable to deny.

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

There’s beauty in stability. Sharon Van Etten wasn’t shy about letting her personal pain spill out on her first couple records, but Tramp finds her exploring music with a new sense of poise. It’s much more of a full rock record than her previous efforts and the fleshed out sound shines on songs like “Magic Chords” and “Warsaw.” While her words can pack an emotional, cutting punch (“Serpents”), its pleasant to see that Van Etten has found some personal peace of mind.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

After spending years of honing their craft and slowly building their brand, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis finally delivered their breakthrough record. Macklemore is equally deft at deft at delivering swagger (“Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us”) and vulnerable reflections (“Same Love,” “Neon Cathedral”) and Ryan Lewis’s sample-free compositions help The Heist have a feel that’s distinctly it’s own. When you add a host of terrific guest choruses (Allen Stone, Mary Lambert, and more) to that mix, the result is the most solidly diverse hip-hop album of the year.

Father John Misty - Fear Fun5. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

No one bombastically burst onto the scene in 2012 quite like Father John Misty did. Fear Fun is a wildly entertaining drug-fueled ride through L.A.’s underbelly in a manner that would’ve made Jim Morrison proud. Whether he’s dwelling on darkness (“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”), the tragic absurdity of art (“Now I’m Learning to Love the War”), or the chemical substances in his system (“I’m Writing a Novel”), FJM does so with a sly sense of humor and bravado. It’s a throwback rock album that revels in how silly the very idea of a throwback rock album is.

Now, Now - Threads4. Now, Now – Threads

With the aide of producer Chris Walla, Now, Now found its tonal sweet spot on Threads. Everything the band did well on previous records is distilled into an immensely accessible album full of superb vocal and guitar harmonies and unintrusive drum beats. And while the band still excels at slow jams (“School Friends,” ), it’s also great to hear the band unabashedly rock out for once (“Thread”).

Deep Sea Diver - History Speaks3. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks

While Deep Sea Diver frontwoman Jessica Dobson served a stint as The Shins’ lead guitarist this year, her own band’s first LP History Speaks was clearly her crowning achievement in 2012. The album bursts with lively energy while blending melodically tight guitar rockers (“Ships,” “You Go Running”) and piano pop ballads (“NWO”). The entire package is crisp, clean, and undeniably hooky. One listen to History Speaks and you’ll be humming the melodies for days to come.

The Helio Sequence - Negotations2. The Helio Sequence – Negotiations

With each passing album, The Helio Sequence’s music has become more focused on atmosphere and flow. Drummer Benjamin Weikel’s synth backings now feature much more open sonic space and frontman Brandon Summers’s guitar work also no longer forces the issue. As a result, the band keeps getting better and better. Negotiations almost feels more like a single composition featuring a series of movements instead of a traditional rock record. No individual track reaches out and grabs you, rather they all welcome you warmly into their collective embrace.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Celebration Rock got me back in the pit. While my body and age had kept me on the pit’s fringes for years, this record made my instinctively rush into the sweaty throng to thrash, bruise and scream along when Japandroids came to town. Every note on Celebration Rock pulsates with youthful electricity: every thundering drum beat, every massive split-signal guitar riff, every “woah-oh-oh-oh-oh” chorus — all of it. Japandroids elevated its game to a new level. It’s as if your favorite dumb punk two-piece band suddenly got arena rock ambitions while making a record and somehow nailed it.

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Events to Plan For in 2013 From Seattle Met

Sub PopI helped compile a list of events to see in 2013 over at Seattle Met, including Sub Pop’s anniversary bash. Check it out.

Top 10 Songs of 2012

Even more so then previous years, it appears I was really into guitar rock in 2012. It’s not exactly a diverse list in that sense, but I can live with it.

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10. “Serpents” – Sharon Van Etten

While the solemn serenity of Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp gets better with each listen, the album lacks is the authentic sense of pain that was prevalent on her first two official records. The one exception to this comes in the form of “Serpents.” Van Etten’s signature angry sorrow comes through as she tremblingly snarls the line, “You enjoy sucking on dreams…” It’s a spine-shivering delivery. While it’s great that Van Etten has found a sense of personal peace, it’s terrific as a listener to hear her pent up venom momentarily seep thorough.

9. “Comeback Kid” – Sleigh Bells

Waves of huge guitar noise helped Sleigh Bells build buzz, but “Comeback Kid” is the band’s first real stab at melodicism. Backed with typically massive riff, the song maintains Sleigh Bells’ sense of chaos and noise while Alexis Krauss’s layered vocals cut through the shredding with an upbeat enthusiasm that makes the song by far the band’s most accessible track to date. It’s a rare high energy track that can be equally enjoyed in the offices of the Brooklyn music blogosphere and in football weight rooms across the country.

8. “Ships”– Deep Sea Diver

Before the day of Deep Sea Diver’s album release show, I hadn’t ever heard the band’s music. I rolled out of bed, checked Twitter, and saw that the band’s new album (History Speaks) was streaming on Bandcamp. On a whim, I clicked play on the first track – “Ships.” I was immediately hooked. The song showcased the best of the band: Jessica Dobson’s killer guitar work and vocals, terrific off-beat drumming (plenty of rim action here), and melody in spades. I quickly snagged a ticket to the release show, bought the album that night, and Deep Sea Diver eventually became my favorite Seattle band of the year. Not bad for a first listen.

7. “Thread” – Now, Now

Now, Now mainly sticks to finely crafted tunes that are relatively slow; borderline plodding. “Thread” unabashedly kicks things into a higher gear with a straight-forward rocker. Everything about the song is pitch perfect: Cacie Dalager and Jess Abbott’s vocal and guitar harmonies, the frenetic tempo, Chris Walla’s production, the jumbled clap beats in the post-chorus. Pulling a thread and watching it all unravel hasn’t been this enjoyable since Weezer’s “Undone – The Sweater Song.”

6. “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” – Father John Misty

I want Father John Misty to be my L.A. tour guide. I imagine he’d get a kick out of showing a bus full of tourists his version of the city, the one that exists on “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” As the rhythmic guitar riff messily crashes about, FJM bellows the refrain of “Jesus Christ girl…” (or more accurately “Je-e-e-e-e-sus Christ girl…”) with a sense of desperation, exasperation, and a hint of condescension. All the while, his tongue is planted so firmly in his cheek that one might worry that it’ll bore a hole in his pretty little preening face. What a delightful way to play in the dark. Continue reading

Top 10 Albums of 2011 Revisited

An Horse - WallsAs I do every year around this time, here’s a look back at last year’s best album list before busting out this year’s version. Now normally this exists to include albums that I missed or didn’t fully appreciate at the time of the initial list. This year’s version is different because, for the first time, all ten albums remain my top 10 of 2011 (they just are in a slightly different order).

The Original Top 10 Albums of 2011

1. Burst Apart – The Antlers
2. Simple Math – Manchester Orchestra
3. Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
4. Strange Mercy – St. Vincent
5. Walls – An Horse
6. Oui Camera Oui – The Heavenly States
7. 13 Chambers – Wugazi
8. The Big Roar – The Joy Formidable
9. Strange Negotiations – David Bazan
10. Capes – Tancred

The Updated Top 10 Albums of 2011

1. Burst Apart – The Antlers
2. Wasting Light – Foo Fighters
3. Walls – An Horse
4. Simple Math – Manchester Orchestra
5. Oui Camera Oui – The Heavenly States
6. Strange Mercy – St. Vincent
7. 13 Chambers – Wugazi
8. Strange Negotiations – David Bazan
9. The Big Roar – The Joy Formidable
10. Capes – Tancred

End of the World Playlists From The Inlander

2012Hopefully the Mayan’s were wrong, but just in case I contributed an end of the world playlist to The Inlander. Have a look.

Fiendish Conversation with David Bazan

Photo by Ryan Russell.

Photo by Ryan Russell.

I got to talk to David Bazan, one of my favorite interview subjects, about the Control tour, music critics, and more. Check it out.

One Christmas at a Time – John Roderick & Jonathan Coulton

One Chirstmas at a TimeDoes your holiday music collection need a kickstart? Geek rocker Jonathan Coulton has teamed up with his pal and The Long Winters frontman John Roderick to release a sweet new holiday album, One Christmas at a Time. Here are 10 reasons why it’s awesome:

1. All the songs are originals. No need for the 1,400,572th cover of “Jingle Bells.”

2. The album is legitimately funny. Ex: On “One Christmas at a Time,” Roderick plays the part of a man who’s horribly inept at Christmas, delivering lines like, “I put all this year’s presents on my credit card, and kind of went overboard, but by this time next year my podcast will be earning serious money.” #supertrain

3. Coulton incorporates classic holiday film references (a drunk Jimmy Stewart from It’s a Wonderful Life, the Island of Misfit Toys, etc.) for the melancholy “Christmas Is Interesting.”

4. No holiday tune better captures the want—the all-consuming childhood longing for this one toy at Christmas— than “2600” (in this case, it’s the Atari 2600 video game console).

5. Jason Finn of the Presidents of the United States of America handled the drumming duties. Coulton and Roderick did everything else.

6. The guys take a country turn on “Christmas in Jail,” where Roderick busts out his best old school country voice (a little Johnny Cash).

7. “Christmas With You Is the Best” is basically an anti-Christmas tune about sweet lovin’.

8. Umm… beards?

9. All the songs were written and recorded in five days when Coulton was in Seattle for PAX—and somehow, it doesn’t feel rushed.

10. The song “Wikipedia Chanukah” is exactly what it sounds like. Roderick dryly reads Wikipedia’s Hanukkah entry over a dance beat. It rules.

Review Score: 7.0

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*